November 10, 2006
MIT C3 WEEKLY UPDATE
- Editor's Note
- Opening Note: Doris C. Rusch with a Female View on Perspectives in Games, Part II
- Looking Forward: C3's The Futures of Entertainment Conference at MIT in Nov.
- Glancing at the C3 Blog
- Closing Note: Tommy DeFrantz on the Importance of Performance and Style
--------------- EDITOR'S NOTE ---------------
Welcome to this week's Weekly Update from C3. This week'supdate features an opening note that is a second part of a piece from last week on a female perspective in games from one of our international affiliate faculty members with the consortium, Doris Rusch.
The closing note is from a C3 faculty affiliate from here at MIT, Tommy DeFrantz. DeFrantz reminds readers about the importance of understanding the effect of performance on style on conceptions of celebrity and popularity.
As usual, the update also includes links to all the entries from the week from the Convergence Culture Consortium blog. Some of you all are already contributors to the blog or else regular followers and even commenters on the blog. We encourage everyone who is part of the C3 team, including faculty and corporate partners, to engage in this public part of C3's work. The site now includes a tab to favorite the blog on Technorati, so be sure to do that if you visit it on a regular basis.
And this week's newsletter also features a final reminder about the upcoming Futures of Entertainment Conference here at MIT.
Also, we are in the process of switching the newsletter distribution style over to a centralized e-mail list for each partner company and a separate one for affiliated faculty. Several of you may have received invitations to accept membership to this e-mail list. If you have received an invitation, please accept it, as we work on transferring the newsletter's distribution to that format.
If you have any questions or comments or would like to request prior issues of the update, direct them to Sam Ford, Editor of the Weekly Update, at email@example.com.
--------------- OPENING NOTE ---------------
“So, you’re probably asking yourself how a handsome devil like me ended up in a place like this with you, right?” – Part 2
By: Doris C. Rusch
This article deals with the question of how different strategies of placeholder design influence the experience of playing a computer game. In the first part a distinction was made between first person strategy (fps) and third person strategy (tps). The defining element was not the perspective as such, but the degree to which the game tries to blur the boundaries between implied player and role in the game. Key assumptions were that fps games emphasize agency over story and can limit identification instead of enhancing it.
Fps does not care how the character feels, because it tries to create the illusion that there is no difference between character and player. “This is you”, it suggests, “now, imagine how you would feel!”. And this is where it becomes most problematic, because of the translation processes taking place when playing video games. One aspect of this translation process is that player input, be it a mouse-click or joystick manipulation, is translated into on-screen action (like shooting, running, pushing, climbing). That is ok because it is easy to make the mental connection between one action (click) and its on-screen response (boom). But the translation process also works on an emotional level. Games are all about experience, about emotions. Now fps – aiming at a minimal gap between player and role – raises the expectation of making the (assumed) emotions of in-game character and player match. Only this is not possible, no matter what strategy you use. It is not a matter of intensity either, but of principle. The assumed emotions experienced by the character who is falling into the abyss are by their very nature different from the emotions the player responsible for missing the ledge will feel in the moment of disaster. Instead of intense fear, she will probably feel frustration or anger.
Now, as I said before, fps emphasizes agency and games relying on the pleasures of agency do not need an avatar at all. But for the game-play to completely take over and push the fiction into the background along with questions like “who am I, why am I here and what does it all mean?”, the fictional worlds of these games are too vivid, too concrete. I feel alienated by a World War 2 setting and I find it hard to play the role of an unspecified soldier because it is so far away from who I am in real life.
For the translation process to work I need an interpreter and in tps games, I get one. Strong characters like Ash, the chainsaw-swinging supermarket attendant from the “Evil Dead Series” serve this function. You do not see through them, the way Espen Aarseth suggested once: “(t)he dimensions of Lara Croft’s body (...) are irrelevant to me as a player, because a different looking body would not make me play differently.(…). When I play, I don’t even see her body, but see through it and past it.” (Aarseth 2004, p.48). Playing the “S-Mart-Ass” Ash certainly makes you play differently. Running for shelter screaming or ducking cowardly behind corners just wouldn’t do. With auto talk utterances like the one used as the title here, they give you a pretty good idea of the kind of guy you are playing, thus altering the whole experience of an otherwise quite conventional game. A cheesy one-liner like: “When you’ve just emptied two barrels of a shotgun into the face of your favorite bartender, you can pretty much bet that happy hour’s over...” certainly shapes your perspective. By helping me understand who I am in the game, tps helps me to establish a stronger connection between the way the game-play makes me feel and the way I am supposed to feel as the character I am playing.
Of course, role playing games (and somehow I strongly tend to include games like “Hitman” and “Max Payne” here) take this a step further, setting an identification process in motion that becomes even stronger during play instead of wearing off. I play a high-elf ranger in Everquest 2, named Theaora. The class description – ranger – is a description of personality traits as well as a hint towards the kind of abilities one will have when playing this class. Subtlety and cunning translate into strong ranged and stealth attacks and attacks dealt when behind the target. Using the ranger-specific attacks in the right order during combat is awarded with much better results than ignoring them. By playing by the rules of the ranger class, little by little you become the subtle and cunning bastard the designers have designed the ranger to be. You go nowhere without using stealth, sneaking up behind an enemy becomes second nature. (Looking at your character certainly is another important aspect of role-playing.)
Personally, I will probably always prefer third person strategy to first person strategy, because they allow me to explore not only a world, but also a character. Concerning my game sketch, I’m still not sure. The relationships between player types, their avatars and preferred perspectives have to be explored more thoroughly before we really understand what works how, for whom and under what circumstances.
Aarseth, Espen (2004): Genre Trouble: Narrativism and the Art of Simulation. In: Wardrip-Fruin, Noah / Harrigan, Pat: First Person. New Media as Story, Performance and Game. (p. 45-56). Cambridge MA: The MIT Press.
Evil Dead: A Fistful of Boomstick: THQ Entertainment, 2003
Everquest II: SOE, 2004
Hitman – Blood Money: IO Interactive, 2006
Max Payne: Rockstar Games, 2001
Doris C. Rusch is an affiliated researcher with the Convergence Culture Consortium and is currently a postdoctorate fellow at the Institute for Design and Assessment of Technology at the Vienna University of Technology in Austria.
---------- ANNOUNCEMENTS ----------
C3 Presents The Futures of Entertainment Conference at MIT next Friday and Saturday
The conference, presented in conjunction with the Comparative Media Studies Program at MIT, will feature leading scholars and critics in the media industry, as well as industry executives. Speakers includeFlickr's Caterina Fake, DC Comics' Paul Levitz, Warner Brothers' Diane Nelson, Big Spaceship's Michael Lebowitz, social networking researcher danah boyd, television scholar Jason Mittell and others, including representatives from MTV Networks, The Cartoon Network, Bioware and other companies that are currently being finalized.
Panels will include: Television Futures, User-Generated Content, Transmedia Properties, Fan Cultures, and Not the Real World Anymore, a look at virtual spaces.
Registration is now closed for the free conference, but we look forward to seeing representatives from each of our partners present in two weeks here at MIT!
For more information on the Futures of Entertainment, go tothis website.
---------- NEWS FROM THE C3 BLOG -----------
Turner Super Deluxe a Promising Upcoming Venture for a Variety of Comedy Material. The broadband comedy network plans to launch content into VOD and video sharing sites as part of an initiative featuring both professional and user-generated content, as well as comedy content from advertisers.
Microsoft Zune Gaining Consumer Interest, Undercutting iPod's Cultural Cache, Setting up New Deals with Content Providers. The Zune launches on Tuesday amidst news that the iPod may not have enough cultural cache to keep its users from purchasing a Zune and new business deals giving music labels--and subsequently artists--cuts of the sale of Zune hardware.
AT&T Launching Into Video Services and Mobile Entertainment with Latest Plans. AT&T's new video services may be augmented by its whole ownership of Cingular Wireless through a proposed BellSouth purchase. How would that affect the future of the phone/cable battles?
Wal-Mart's Third Strike? Christmas Campaign Drawing the Ire of Parents, Anti-Wal-Mart Activists. The sales giant has created an online site for children to come and be presented with a series of toys, choosing what they like and don't like, and then the site will e-mail their parents as advocates on their behalf for the toys they want. Right now, it appears to be making quite a few groups angry.
A Dream Come True? Wireless Technology for HD Among Future Plans. The WirelessHD Consortium, made up of industry leaders working with a wireless startup company, plans to create wireless technology for high-definition hardware available in the market in 2008.
PassionsNow Streaming on NBC Web site. The NBC soap opera, in addition to being available on iTunes, will be streamed through the player on NBC's site.
Xbox 360 Provides New Opportunities for Cross-Platform Distribution. The videogame platform has made deals with a variety of providers, including Turner and MTV Networks, to provide movies and television content through an Internet connection.
The Padpitsand InTurnon CBS innertube: Thank You Very Much. Borat's writer and As the World Turns' InTurnprovide new content for CBS innertube as the network's online platform strives to offer original content.
A Firsthand Account and Reader Reaction to Marvel Comics/Guiding LightCrossover. Fan reaction and insider reaction is varied for the soap opera/comic book crossover, with commentaries and reviews published online.
Further Interesting Commentary on Complex Television. A recent New York Timespiece on Lost's hiatus and Jason Mittell's recent piece on The Nineprovides further insight into the fall debate about the viability and future of complex television shows.
Comcast Ziddio Platform Launches as Beta Version. The cable network has launched its own video sharing site for user-generated content, including awards for what is voted the best videos.
New President of CBS Interactive Division Making the News. Quincy Smith plans to bring a new set of ideas to innertube and other CBS new media and transmedia projects.
In Yoyogi Park. C3 Director Henry Jenkins republishes an excerpt from an essay called "Media Literacy--Who Needs It?" about his experiences in Yoyogi Park in Tokyo a few years ago.
Wikipediology Coming Up? Stefan Werning reacts to claims that Wikipedia will kill archaeology and future uses of Wikipedia for academic purposes.
The Phenomenon of Fans of Fans. This features a piece I wrote for the C3 newsletter a few months ago about fans who become fans of other "performers" from the fan community, whether in the online space, through television, or face-to-face.
--------------- FOLLOW THE BLOG ---------------
Don't forget - you can always post, read, and carry out online conversations with the C3 team at our blog: http://www.convergenceculture.org/weblog/.
--------------- CLOSING NOTE ---------------
Performance and Style
By: Thomas F. DeFrantz
As much as pundits want us all to believe the hype about celebrity corporeality - that is, the things that celebrities do when they're not engaged in their artistic practices - in truth, performance and style continue to profoundly influence the way that audiences understand artists. Although often overlooked, performance and style constitute a large portion of the terms of engagement that produce celebrity. What a performer does and how she does it still matter.
In my research on hip hop, I spend considerable effort tracing the history of particular aesthetic impulses - dances, beats, fashions, subject matter for rhymes. For me, tracing these histories becomes an essential exercise toward understanding how current trends develop. Articulating how Black Thought of the Roots constructs "flow" in his live and mediated performances in relation to his predecessors (Gil Scott-Heron, Sly Stone, Louis Armstrong - all of these in a single song, mind you) helps us all become more excited about his next recording or appearance. More than this, the research can deepen our experience of Thought's artistry, as we understand the creative ground of his performance, and his considerable deployment of style as he channels voices from the past. Thought's celebrity in hip hop is bound up with his performance style.
Researching style can also help predict the ground of possibilities for future creative acts. In my research on presence of science fiction imagery in hip hop music videos, I documented a trend among filmmakers to attempt to make the musical beats palapable on video. Director Hype Williams pioneered a successful method of matching beats to video editing which has been widely emulated, and, not coincidentally, related long traditions of critical writing that compare African American presence to the landing of space aliens on foreign planets. Afro-futurism, a gathering notion of creative analysis practiced by some media scholars in this vein, predicts an expansion of science fiction in relation to work by hip hop artists. And in my analysis, Hype Williams gave us unexpected ways to see Afro futurist possibilities in music videos tethered to longstanding traditions of black performance as otherwordly. Hype's methods remain in circulation because their style is undeniable.
But style is hard to determine when it is not visual. Sure, we can see style in music videos or in fashion; but how do we talk about style in terms of performance? What makes Jay-Z a better rapper than Diddy? Will Lady Sovereign be able to match performance flair with Eminem? Why or why not? When the media frenzy surrounding marketing settles, who among these four artists will be standing in terms of their creative practice? Who among them will generate creative practices that feed audiences twenty years from now?
Researching performance and style can offer some clues. Performers who work in relation to a broad swath of practices stand a better chance of producing recognizable style that will endure shifts in the marketplace, and even become art. Flash-in-the-pan performances - that may look great and attract media attention, but ultimately have little to do with anything but their own existence - disappear quickly, relegated to become historical footnotes. How audiences recognize the particulars of style remains open to interpretation. No matter, I'll keep seeking out ways to talk about style and performance, confident that this aesthetic realm does indeed provide useful ways to think about the important ways that artists do what they do
For my essay on Hype Williams and Afro-Futurist Filmmaking, look here:
Thomas F. DeFrantz is Associate Professor of Music and Theater Arts at MIT and director of the research group SLIPPAGE| Performance, Media, Technology. A choreographer and author, his publications include texts on dance history and practice, playscripts, evening-length dance productions, and a recent article "Wait ... Hip Hop Sexualities" in Handbook of the New Sexuality Studies (Routledge, 2006). In Fall 2004, he acted as Associate Director of CMS at MIT.
Compiled and Edited by Sam Ford (firstname.lastname@example.org)
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